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  • Published in Analysis
refugees welcome demo

Refugees Welcome demo in London, September 2016. Photo: Flickr/Jim Aindow

There are good grounds for the left counterposing our Brexit to the Tories‘, writes Kevin Ovenden

Just 22 percent of people are in favour of ignoring the referendum outcome or holding a second one and blocking the Brexit process.

That is one finding from the YouGov poll carried out last weekend on attitudes to Brexit, when it should be triggered, what the main issues facing the country are and so on.

First, Brexit is clearly a mass issue. People were asked to give the most important issue facing Britain and were able to tick up to three from a list.

The result: Britain leaving the EU (62%), immigration & asylum (45%), the economy (33%), health (33%), housing (19%).

Further, Brexit is the top issue both for those who voted Leave and for Remain.

So, while there is clearly an urgent need to develop campaigning and struggles against the government on a range of issues (the health service and housing stand out, alongside racism and xenophobia), strategically and politically for the left and labour movement the question of Brexit cannot be evaded.

Further, despite the fact the media coverage centres upon arcane arguments at Westminster and in the courts, and for the most part rehearses the fight between the official Leave and Remain campaigns, the left needs to make its case and arguments in a truly popular way.

One of the great complaints from ordinary people during the referendum campaign was that from neither side did they get honest and balanced information. The left has a chance to boost its credibility on that score.

A second strong finding is that support for carrying through the referendum result is overwhelming.

Some 45 percent of people say they support Leave and the government must carry out the referendum result. Some 23 percent say they support Remain, but the government must in any case carry out Brexit. Some 22 percent are for Remain and for the government either ignoring the referendum outcome or holding a second one. And 10 percent do not know.

So the position being argued for by the Lib Dems, the more Blairite of the Labour right and pro-EU Tories such as Anna Soubry has the support of less than one in four of the population. Meanwhile, more than two in three of the population - irrespective of whether they voted Leave or Remain - are in favour of Brexit being carried out, on democratic grounds if on no other.

In London, the English region that had an overall Remain majority, 57 percent of people say the referendum result should be carried out and 31 percent say the government should block it or there should be a second referendum.

Gearing an appeal to 22 percent of the population makes political sense for the Liberal Democrats. They are on only 10 percent in the latest poll of voting intention. It can make no sense to the Labour Party, which is on 33 percent.

Furthermore, an overwhelming majority believe that Brexit is going to happen. Just 14 percent think that it probably will not. Some 59 percent believe it will happen by the end of 2020.

There is a lot more detail in here about the outcomes people would want and what they expect. The spread of opinion is very wide.

Overall, there is little optimism in the various scenarios polled, yet there are strong indicators that people want the referendum respected, believe that it is going to be, but don't have much confidence in the outcomes.

That is terrain upon which the labour movement can provide a credible and radical alternative to the Tory Brexit.

When people are asked to choose between reducing immigration or doing what is best for the British economy (with the two counterposed) - 65 percent choose what's best for the economy and 35 percent to reduce immigration. Among Leave voters, the figures are 44 percent and 56 percent.

That shows the greater salience of the anti-immigration argument among Leave voters. But still 44 percent of them would choose to prioritise the economy over reducing immigration.

In a choice between Britain controlling its own laws and British companies having access to other markets, the figures are 62 percent for controlling laws and 38 percent prioritising companies' market access.

Taken together these support a strategy for the left on these questions which is 1) for an economy which is geared to people, not to companies, 2) on that basis (as well as others) challenging the anti-immigration arguments, and 3) firmly rooted in an expanded notion of popular democracy.

These are positions which those developing the arguments for a left or People's Brexit are taking up. But in any case, there is evidence here that these kinds of positions should be taken up by the whole movement.

What the YouGov poll certainly shows is that whether people voted Leave or Remain they are now addressing in their minds the reality post-referendum.

And that is where the left urgently needs to place itself.

We have advantages. Just 2 percent of people think the government is doing very well on the Brexit process, with a further 16 percent saying "fairly well". Those saying badly or very badly total 52 percent, up six percentage points on two weeks ago. And again, the majority thinking the government is doing badly holds among Leave voters as well.

People believe there should be Brexit. They think it is the democratic thing to do. They have no confidence in the government's handling of it. They are uncertain about the outcomes or what it should look like. When forced to choose, they will put economic well-being above anti-immigration propaganda and some notion of democracy and self-rule above the global fortunes of British companies.

In that context, there are good grounds for the left counterposing our Brexit to the Tories'.

Tagged under: The Left anti-racism Brexit
Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.

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